Lawmakers reflect on ‘controversial’ 2019 session

During the 2019 Maryland legislative session, Delegate Carl Anderton, R-38B, was a new appointee to the House Appropriations Committee, presenting a “whole new learning curve in a great session overall,” the legislator said, summarizing the three-month term.

“A lot of the committees had a kind of a lulling start but on Appropriations, we jumped right in. We had a $46 million budget we had to work our way through,” he said.

Delegate Johnny Mautz, R-37B, though, called the session — held from Jan. 9 to April 8 — “very controversial.”

“There were a whole lot of high notes. We were able to get some of the laws changed for electrical co-ops so they can deliver broadband signals, get signals out to rural areas. It was a hard year but there were some successes,” he said.

Like Anderton, Mautz, Delegate Wayne Hartman, R-38C, said the session ended on a sad note because of the death of House Speaker Michael Busch and both mentioned that Speaker Mike Miller has been ill.

“I think it definitely changed the mood of sine die. After 90 days, tensions start to rise and you’re finding out what’s passing, what’s not passing. We were getting down to the wire,” Hartman said.

“Michael Busch had become a great friend and a mentor of mine, even though we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but that didn’t matter,” Anderton said.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, in a video posted on Facebook the day after the Session ended, called sine day 2019 “like no other I have participated in, in the past.”

“With the passing of Speaker Busch we wrapped up our work by 11:30 so we could go over and hear the tributes … in the

Busch was “a bridge builder of sorts, who listened to his side and others’ side,” Delegate Chris Adams, R-37B, said.

“I know good leadership when I see it. In many cases we had deep disagreements on policy, but Speaker Busch always found a way to let us voice our Eastern Shore issues on the House floor without shortening or diminishing our opportunity. I’ll always appreciate that,” he said.

Hartman, formerly an Ocean City Councilman, said being in Annapolis, with a more complex budget, state highway system and funding for universities and hospitals, was considerably different from City Council matters.

“It’s a whole new scale. In that regard it was exciting but it’s very frustrating seeing how government works up there and seeing how things are orchestrated. They are so well orchestrated, I’m not sure we’ll ever have true democracy and that is disheartening,” he said.

On Appropriations, Anderton said he worked to “maintain as many of the governor’s priorities as possible but also we had to make sure that things that weren’t submitted in the governor’s budget for the Eastern Shore, that we worked to get some of those things in there.”

Funding was approved to open and staff Salisbury University’s new Downtown Center for Entrepreneurship set to open in the Gallery Building in 2020.

“In a year where a lot of universities saw cuts in funding, we were able to make sure SU was held as unharmed as possible,” he said, praising SU President Dr. Charles Wight, who was inaugurated last week, for traveling to Annapolis and working with Anderton and fellow legislators.

“He was up there with us the whole session, between him and his Deputy Chief of Staff Eli Modlin. It was awesome the way he jumped in with both feet after (former SU President) Dr. Janet (Dudley-Eshbach) stepped down. I think he’s done a great job so far and I look forward to playing whatever role I can to bring his vision to life,” Anderton said.

Minimum wage bill

Anderton said the bill, to eventually increase the Maryland minimum wage to $15 per hour, “gave me some apprehension.”

“A lot of people were concerned on behalf of business owners, but my concern was for someone who is making $16 an hour now. If the minimum wage becomes $15 an hour, you’ve been brought down to minimum wage instead of lifted up.

“But it’s here and I’m sure one thing. We are very resilient on the Shore and we will overcome,” he said.

Speaking more strongly against the bill was Delegate Johnny Mautz, who owns Carpenter Street Saloon in St. Michaels.

“I thought this was one of the more difficult sessions in my five years in Annapolis. Most of the veterans I spoke with shared that sentiment. There were a lot of controversial bills and the Eastern Shore felt the burden of those bills,” he said.

“The minimum wage bill, we don’t have the number of people we need for the economy to support that. Many of the businesses I talked to said they are already eyeballing what they need to. Economists have looked at different revenue projections and they said this will be a hardship for small businesses,” he said.

“The backbone of our economy is the little. You can only raise prices so much,” he said.

“I talked to a guy who runs grocery stores on Delmarva and he told me his margin is 2 or 3 percent. He would have no choice but to raise the price of milk and bread,” he said.

Adams worried the bill will have a negative impact on employment.

“We know because in cities like New York City, some businesses will go out of business because of the heavy mandate. The only question is now, we are anticipating a recession some time in 2020. If that is the case, this minimum wage policy could be a terrible policy move and at the worst time. I think the bill goes into effect Jan. 1. We’ll have our first in a series of wage increases. I think this is just a terrible decision coming down from Annapolis. It sort of indicates the model of the legislature moving in a more progressive, more intrusive fashion.

“I fully expect that the primary focus next year is going to be significant tax increases. We are expecting a $1 million structural deficit,” he said.

Funding for education

Legislators voted on a bill to increase funding to Maryland schools, following, in 2016, the creation of The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The commission brought together representatives from throughout Maryland to review the findings of the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in Maryland, hear from national experts on world class education systems and make recommendations for improving education in Maryland through funding, policies and resources.

The goal was to prepare Maryland students “to meet the challenges of a changing global economy, to meet the state’s workforce needs, to be prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce, and to be successful citizens in the 21st Century.”

Mautz voted against it.

“The funding formulas were really messed up because it underfunds Worcester, Talbot and Kent counties but it funds other counties,” he said.

Carozza said the full Senate debated and voted on the bill, Senate Bill 1030 — The Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – and it passed 43-1.

“As we move forward with the Kirwan Commission recommendations, I will continue to insist on fair education funding formulas for the Shore and engage our local school superintendents, county officials, teachers, parents and business and community leaders on the education priorities in my district,” she said.

“I think the Kirwin Commission aimed too high, too extensive,” Adams said.

He also voted against the budget.

“I did not see any indication of paying heed to our budget possibilities next year.

“My position is, I did not support the way we were spending money and approving dollars with what seemed to be little concern for next year’s budget conversation and a possible economic recession that could harm our state even further,” Adams said.

Also concerning education, Anderton said he is pleased Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver agreed to fund Board of Education requests and called it “long overdue.”

“I think we have a long way to go but making sure we can attract the highest quality teachers we can, making sure kids are in facilities worthy of them being in — all those things are hand in hand. I’m in favor of universal Pre-K. The earlier children get a head start — no pun intended — the better. We have to give kids the tools they need,” he said.

School starting before Labor Day

Anderton supported allowing schools to decide when school will start, instead of having the state mandate they can’t start until after Labor Day.

Local control should go back to local school boards, he said.

Mautz said the matter will go to referendum vote and that he, as a father, would like to see a post-Labor Day start.

Hunting on Sundays

Anderton was pleased the bill finally passed to add two Sundays to the number of hunting days allowed in Wicomico County, making that number equal to those in Somerset and Worcester counties.

Opponents included horse enthusiasts who enjoy riding on Sundays and don’t want to hear jarring gunshots.

“We respected that but … everything we already have we keep and on the two additional Sundays hunting ends at 10:30 a.m. — only on those two Sundays,” he said.

Polystyrene ban

Both Hartman and Mautz were concerned about a measure to ban Styrofoam use, especially since Styrofoam used in the food industry is less than 2 percent of the entire amount in Maryland. Mautz owns a restaurant.

Hartman said most Styrofoam is used in shipping, to protect large appliances, and packing peanuts.

“Requiring Styrofoam recycling was rejected by the Democrats. This bill goes so far as to hurt egg producers,” Hartman said, explaining they won’t be able to ship eggs in protective Styrofoam.

“This is a bill that could have been done better. They are feel-good measures that fall short. At first glance they sound good but when you get to the details, they could have been done better. These environmental programs, we have to be sure they don’t negatively impact business,” he said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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